Eleanor H. Porter
Part 2 out of 4
"But I don't see how any one CAN object to a nice clean little cat
at the table," Billy had remonstrated tearfully.
"I know; but--er--they do, sometimes," William had stammered; "and
this is one of the times. Aunt Hannah would never stand for it--
"Oh, but she doesn't know Spunk," Billy had observed then,
hopefully. "You just wait until she knows him."
Mrs. Stetson began to "know" Spunk the next day. The immediate
source of her knowledge was the discovery that Spunk had found her
ball of black knitting yarn, and had delightedly captured it. Not
that he was content to let it remain where it was--indeed, no. He
rolled it down the stairs, batted it through the hall to the
drawing-room, and then proceeded to 'chasse' with it in and out
among the legs of various chairs and tables, ending in one grand
whirl that wound the yarn round and round his small body, and
keeled him over half upon his back. There he blissfully went to
Billy found him after a gleeful following of the slender woollen
trail. Mrs. Stetson was with her--but she was not gleeful.
"Oh, Aunt Hannah, Aunt Hannah," gurgled Billy, "isn't he just too
cute for anything?"
Aunt Hannah shook her head.
"I must confess I don't see it," she declared. "My dear, just look
at that hopeless snarl!"
"Oh, but it isn't hopeless at all," laughed Billy. "It's like one
of those strings they unwind at parties with a present at the end
of it. And Spunk is the present," she added, when she had
extricated the small gray cat. "And you shall hold him," she
finished, graciously entrusting the sleepy kitten to Mrs. Stetson's
"But, I--it--I can't--Billy! I don't like that name," blurted out
the indignant little lady with as much warmth as she ever allowed
herself to show. "It must be changed to--to 'Thomas.'"
"Changed? Spunk's name changed?" demanded Billy, in a horrified
voice. "Why, Aunt Hannah, it can't be changed; it's HIS, you
know." Then she laughed merrily. "'Thomas,' indeed! Why, you old
dear!--just suppose I should ask YOU to change your name! Now _I_
like 'Helen Clarabella' lots better than 'Hannah,' but I'm not
going to ask you to change that--and I'm going to love you just as
well, even if you are 'Hannah'--see if I don't! And you'll love
Spunk, too, I'm sure you will. Now watch me find the end of this
snarl!" And she danced over to the dumbfounded little lady in the
big chair, gave her an affectionate kiss, and then attacked the
tangled mass of black with skilful fingers.
"But, I--you--oh, my grief and conscience!" finished the little
woman whose name was not Helen Clarabella.--"Oh, my grief and
conscience," according to Bertram, was Aunt Hannah's deadliest
In Aunt Hannah's black silk lap Spunk stretched luxuriously, and
blinked sleepy eyes; then with a long purr of content he curled
himself for another nap--still Spunk.
It was some time after luncheon that day that Bertram heard a knock
at his studio door. Bertram was busy. His particular pet "Face of
a Girl" was to be submitted soon to the judges of a forthcoming Art
Exhibition, and it was not yet finished. He was trying to make up
now for the many hours lost during the last few days; and even
Bertram, at times, did not like interruptions. His model had gone,
but he was still working rapidly when the knock came. His tone was
not quite cordial when he answered.
"It's I--Spunk and I. May we come in?" called a confident voice.
Bertram said a sharp word behind his teeth--but he opened the door.
"Of course! I was--painting," he announced.
"How lovely! And I'll watch you. Oh, my--what a pretty room!"
"I'm glad you like it."
"Indeed I do; I like it ever so much. I shall stay here lots, I
"Oh, you--will!" For once even Bertram's ready tongue failed to
find fitting response.
"Yes. Now paint. I want to see you. Aunt Hannah has gone out
anyway, and I'm lonesome. I think I'll stay."
"But I can't--that is, I'm not used to spectators."
"Of course you aren't, you poor old lonesomeness! But it isn't
going to be that way, any more, you know, now that I've come. I
sha'n't let you be lonesome."
"I could swear to that," declared the man, with sudden fervor; and
for Billy's peace of mind it was just as well, perhaps, that she
did not know the exact source of that fervency.
"Now paint," commanded Billy again.
Because he did not know what else to do, Bertram picked up a brush;
but he did not paint. The first stroke of his brush against the
canvas was to Spunk a challenge; and Spunk never refused a
challenge. With a bound he was on Bertram's knee, gleeful paw
outstretched, batting at the end of the brush.
"Tut, tut--no, no--naughty Spunk! Say, but wasn't that cute?"
chuckled Billy. "Do it again!"
The artist gave an exasperated sigh.
"My dear girl," he protested, "cruel as it may seem to you, this
picture is not a kindergarten game for the edification of small
cats. I must politely ask Spunk to desist."
"But he won't!" laughed Billy. "Never mind; we will take it some
day when he's asleep. Let's not paint any more, anyhow. I've come
to see your rooms." And she sprang blithely to her feet. "Dear,
dear, what a lot of faces!--and all girls, too! How funny! Why
don't you paint other things? Still, they are rather nice."
"Thank you," accepted Bertram; dryly.
Bertram did not paint any more that afternoon. Billy found much to
interest her, and she asked numberless questions. She was greatly
excited when she understood the full significance of the
omnipresent "Face of a Girl"; and she graciously offered to pose
herself for the artist. She spent, indeed, quite half an hour
turning her head from side to side, and demanding "Now how's that?--
and that?" Tiring at last of this, she suggested Spunk as a
substitute, remarking that, after all, cats--pretty cats like
Spunk--were even nicer to paint than girls.
She rescued Spunk then from the paint-box where he had been holding
high carnival with Bertram's tubes of paint, and demanded if
Bertram ever saw a more delightful, more entrancing, more
altogether-to-be-desired model. She was so artless, so merry, so
frankly charmed with it all that Bertram could not find it in his
heart to be angry, notwithstanding his annoyance. But when at four
o'clock, she took herself and her cat cheerily up-stairs, he lifted
his hands in despair.
"Great Scott!" he groaned. "If this is a sample of what's coming--
I'm GOING, that's all!"
CYRIL TAKES HIS TURN
Billy had been a member of the Beacon Street household a week
before she repeated her visit to Cyril at the top of the house.
This time Bertram was not with her. She went alone. Even Spunk
was left behind--Billy remembered her prospective host's aversion
Billy did not feel that she knew Cyril very well. She had tried
several times to chat with him; but she had made so little headway,
that she finally came to the conclusion--privately expressed to
Bertram--that Mr. Cyril was bashful. Bertram had only laughed. He
had laughed the harder because at that moment he could hear Cyril
pounding out his angry annoyance on the piano upstairs--Cyril had
just escaped from one of Billy's most determined "attempts," and
Bertram knew it. Bertram's laugh had puzzled Billy--and it had not
quite pleased her. Hence to-day she did not tell him of her plan
to go up-stairs and see what she could do herself, alone, to combat
this "foolish bashfulness" on the part of Mr. Cyril Henshaw.
In spite of her bravery, Billy waited quite one whole minute at the
top of the stairs before she had the courage to knock at Cyril's
The door was opened at once.
"Why--Billy!" cried the man in surprise.
"Yes, it's Billy. I--I came up to--to get acquainted," she smiled
"Why, er--you are very kind. Will you--come in?"
"Thank you; yes. You see, I didn't bring Spunk. I--remembered."
Cyril bowed gravely.
"You are very kind--again," he said.
Billy fidgeted in her chair. To her mind she was not "getting on"
at all. She determined on a bold stroke.
"You see, I thought if--if I should come up here, where there
wouldn't be so many around, we might get acquainted," she confided;
"then I would get to like you just as well as I do the others."
At the odd look that came into the man's face, the girl realized
suddenly what she had said. Her cheeks flushed a confused red.
"Oh, dear! That is, I mean--I like you, of course," she floundered
miserably; then she broke off with a frank laugh. "There! you see
I never could get out of anything. I might as well own right up.
I DON'T like you as well as I do Uncle William and Mr. Bertram. So
Cyril laughed. For the first time since he had seen Billy,
something that was very like interest came into his eyes.
"Oh, you don't," he retorted. "Now that is--er--very UNkind of
Billy shook her head.
"You don't say that as if you meant it," she accused him, her eyes
gravely studying his face. "Now I'M in earnest. _I_ really want
to like YOU!"
"Thank you. Then perhaps you won't mind telling me why you don't
like me," he suggested.
Again Billy flushed.
"Why, I--I just don't; that's all," she faltered. Then she cried
aggrievedly: "There, now! you've made me be impolite; and I didn't
mean to be, truly."
"Of course not," assented the man; "and it wasn't impolite, because
I asked you for the information, you know. I may conclude then,"
he went on with an odd twinkle in his eyes, "that I am merely
classed with tripe and rainy days."
"Tripe and rainy days. Those are the only things, if I remember
rightly, that you don't like."
The girl stared; then she chuckled.
"There! I knew I'd like you better if you'd only SAY something,"
she beamed. "But let's not talk any more about that. Play to me;
won't you? You know you promised me 'The Maiden's Prayer.'"
"Pardon me, but you must be mistaken," he replied coldly. "I do
not play 'The Maiden's Prayer.'"
"Oh, what a shame! And I do so love it! But you play other
things; I've heard you a little, and Mr. Bertram says you do--in
concerts and things."
"Does he?" murmured Cyril, with a slight lifting of his eyebrows.
"There! Now off you go again all silent and horrid!" chaffed
Billy. "What have I said now? Mr. Cyril--do you know what I
think? I believe you've got NERVES!" Billy's voice was so tragic
that the man could but laugh.
"Perhaps I have, Miss Billy."
"Like Miss Letty's?"
"I'm not acquainted with the lady."
"Gee! wouldn't you two make a pair!" chuckled Billy unexpectedly.
"No; but, really, I mean--do you want people to walk on tiptoe and
speak in whispers?"
The girl sprang to her feet--but she sighed.
"Then I'm going. This might be one of the times, you know." She
hesitated, then walked to the piano. "My, wouldn't I like to play
on that!" she breathed.
Cyril shuddered. Cyril could imagine what Billy would play--and
Cyril did not like "rag-time," nor "The Storm."
"Oh, do you play?" he asked constrainedly.
Billy shook her head.
"Not much. Only little bits of things, you know," she said
wistfully, as she turned toward the door.
For some minutes after she had gone, Cyril stood where she had left
him, his eyes moody and troubled.
"I suppose I might have played--something," he muttered at last;
"but--'The Maiden's Prayer'!--good heavens!"
Billy was a little shy with Cyril when he came down to dinner that
night. For the next few days, indeed, she held herself very
obviously aloof from him. Cyril caught himself wondering once if
she were afraid of his "nerves." He did not try to find out,
however; he was too emphatically content that of her own accord she
seemed to be leaving him in peace.
It must have been a week after Billy's visit to the top of the
house that Cyril stopped his playing very abruptly one day, and
opened his door to go down-stairs. At the first step he started
back in amazement.
"Why, Billy!" he ejaculated.
The girl was sitting very near the top of the stairway. At his
appearance she got to her feet shamefacedly.
"Why, Billy, what in the world are you doing there?"
"Yes. Do you mind?"
The man did not answer. He was too surprised to find words at
once, and he was trying to recollect what he had been playing.
"You see, listening to music this way isn't like listening to--to
talking," hurried on Billy, feverishly. "It isn't sneaking like
that; is it?"
"And you don't mind?"
"Why, surely, I ought not to mind--that," he admitted.
"Then I can keep right on as I have done. Thank you," sighed
Billy, in relief.
"Keep right on! Have you been here before?"
"Why, yes, lots of days. And, say, Mr. Cyril, what is that--that
thing that's all chords with big bass notes that keep saying
something so fine and splendid that it marches on and on, getting
bigger and grander, just as if there couldn't anything stop it,
until it all ends in one great burst of triumph? Mr. Cyril, what
"Why, Billy!"--the interest this time in the man's face was not
faint--"I wish I might make others catch my meaning as I have
evidently made you do it! That's something of my own--that I'm
writing, you understand; and I've tried to say--just what you say
"And I did hear it--I did! Oh, won't you play it, please, with the
"I can't, Billy. I'm sorry, indeed I am. But I've an appointment,
and I'm late now. You shall hear it, though, I promise you, and
with the door wide open," continued the man, as, with a murmured
apology, he passed the girl and hurried down the stairs.
Billy waited until she heard the outer hall door shut; then very
softly she crept through Cyril's open doorway, and crossed the room
to the piano.
A SURPRISE ALL AROUND
May came, and with it warm sunny days. There was a little balcony
at the rear of the second floor, and on this Mrs. Stetson and Billy
sat many a morning and sewed. There were occupations that Billy
liked better than sewing; but she was dutiful, and she was really
fond of Aunt Hannah; so she accepted as gracefully as possible that
good lady's dictum that a woman who could not sew, and sew well,
was no lady at all.
One of the things that Billy liked to do so much better than to sew
was to play on Cyril's piano. She was very careful, however, that
Mr. Cyril himself did not find this out. Cyril was frequently gone
from the house, and almost as frequently Aunt Hannah took naps. At
such times it was very easy to slip up-stairs to Cyril's rooms, and
once at the piano, Billy forgot everything else.
One day, however, the inevitable happened: Cyril came home
unexpectedly. The man heard the piano from William's floor, and
with a surprised ejaculation he hurried upstairs two steps at a
time. At the door he stopped in amazement.
Billy was at the piano, but she was not playing "rag-time," "The
Storm," nor yet "The Maiden's Prayer." There was no music before
her, but under her fingers "big bass notes" very much like Cyril's
own, were marching on and on to victory. Billy's face was
rapturously intent and happy.
"By Jove--Billy!" gasped the man.
Billy leaped to her feet and whirled around guiltily.
"Oh, Mr. Cyril--I'm so sorry!"
"Sorry!--and you play like that!"
"No, no; I'm not sorry I played. It's because you--found me."
Billy's cheeks were a shamed red, but her eyes were defiantly
brilliant, and her chin was at a rebellious tilt. "I wasn't doing
any--harm; not if you weren't here--with your NERVES!"
The man laughed and came slowly into the room.
"Billy, who taught you to play?"
"No one. I can't play. I can only pick out little bits of things
"But you do play. I just heard you."
Billy shrugged her shoulders.
"That was nothing. It was only what I had heard. I was trying to
make it sound like--yours."
"And, by George! you succeeded," muttered Cyril under his breath;
then aloud he asked: "Didn't you ever study music?"
Billy's eyes dimmed.
"No. That was the only thing Aunt Ella and I didn't think alike
about. She had an old square piano, all tin-panny and thin, you
know. I played some on it, and wanted to take lessons; but I
didn't want to practise on that. I wanted a new one. That's what
she wouldn't do--get me a new piano, or let me do it. She said SHE
practised on that piano, and that it was quite good enough for me,
especially to learn on. I--I'm afraid I got stuffy. I hated that
piano so! But I was almost ready to give in when--when Aunt Ella
"And all you play then is just by ear?"
"By--ear? I suppose so--if you mean what I hear. Easy things I
can play quick, but--but those chords ARE hard; they skip around
Cyril smiled oddly.
"I should say so," he agreed. "But perhaps there is something else
that I play--that you like. Is there?"
"Oh, yes. Now there's that little thing that swings and sways like
this," cried Billy, dropping herself on to the piano stool and
whisking about. Billy was not afraid now, nor defiant. She was
only eager and happy again. In a moment a dreamy waltz fell upon
Cyril's ears--a waltz that he often played himself. It was not
played correctly, it is true. There were notes, and sometimes
whole measures, that were very different from the printed music.
But the tune, the rhythm, and the spirit were there.
"And there's this," said Billy; "and this," she went on, sliding
into one little strain after another--all of which were recognized
by the amazed man at her side.
"Billy," he cried, when she had finished and whirled upon him
again, "Billy, would you like to learn to play--really play from
"Oh, wouldn't I!"
"Then you shall! We'll have a piano tomorrow in your rooms for you
to practise on. And--I'll teach you myself."
"Oh, thank you, Mr. Cyril--you don't know how I thank you!" exulted
Billy, as she danced from the room to tell Aunt Hannah of this
great and good thing that had come into her life.
To Billy, this promise of Cyril's to be her teacher was very kind,
very delightful; but it was not in the least a thing at which to
marvel. To Bertram, however, it most certainly was.
"Well, guess what's happened," he said to William that night, after
he had heard the news. "I'll believe anything now--anything: that
you'll raffle off your collection of teapots at the next church
fair, or that I shall go to Egypt as a 'Cooky' guide. Listen;
Cyril is going to give piano lessons to Billy!--CYRIL!"
AUNT HANNAH SPEAKS HER MIND
Bertram said that the Strata was not a strata any longer. He
declared that between them, Billy and Spunk had caused such an
upheaval that there was no telling where one stratum left off and
another began. What Billy had not attended to, Spunk had, he said.
"You see, it's like this," he explained to an amused friend one
day. "Billy is taking piano lessons of Cyril, and she is posing
for one of my heads. Naturally, then, such feminine belongings as
fancy-work, thread, thimbles, and hairpins are due to show up at
any time either in Cyril's apartments or mine--to say nothing of
William's; and she's in William's lots--to look for Spunk, if for
no other purpose.
"You must know that Spunk likes William's floor the best of the
bunch, there are so many delightful things to play with. Not that
Spunk stays there--dear me, no. He's a sociable little chap, and
his usual course is to pounce on a shelf, knock off some object
that tickles his fancy, then lug it in his mouth to--well, anywhere
that he happens to feel like going. Cyril has found him up-stairs
with a small miniature, battered and chewed almost beyond
recognition. And Aunt Hannah nearly had a fit one day when he
appeared in her room with an enormous hard-shelled black bug--dead,
of course--that he had fished from a case that Pete had left open.
As for me, I can swear that the little round white stone he was
playing with in my part of the house was one of William's
Collection Number One.
"And that isn't all," Bertram continued. "Billy brings her music
down to show to me, and lugs my heads all over the rest of the
house to show to other folks. And there is always everywhere a
knit shawl, for Aunt Hannah is sure to feel a draught, and Billy
keeps shawls handy. So there you are! We certainly aren't a
strata any longer," he finished.
Billy was, indeed, very much at home in the Beacon Street house--
too much so, Aunt Hannah thought. Aunt Hannah was, in fact,
seriously disturbed. To William one evening, late in May, she
spoke her mind.
"William, what are you going to do with Billy?" she asked abruptly.
"Do with her? What do you mean?" returned William with the
contented smile that was so often on his lips these days. "This is
"That's the worst of it," sighed the woman, with a shake of her
"The worst of it! Aunt Hannah, what do you mean? Don't you like
"Yes, yes, William, of course I like Billy. I love her! Who could
help it? That's not what I mean. It's of Billy I'm thinking, and
of the rest of you. She can't stay here like this. She must go
away, to school, or--or somewhere."
"And she's going in September," replied the man. "She'll go to
preparatory school first, and to college, probably."
"Yes, but now--right away. She ought to go--somewhere."
"Why, yes, for the summer, of course. But those plans aren't
completed yet. Billy and I were talking of it last evening. You
know the boys are always away more or less, but I seldom go until
August, and we let Pete and Dong Ling off then for a month and
close the house. I told Billy I'd send you and her anywhere she
liked for the whole summer, but she says no. She prefers to stay
here with me. But I don't quite fancy that idea--through all the
hot June and July--so I don't know but I'll get a cottage somewhere
near at one of the beaches, where I can run back and forth night
and morning. Of course, in that case, we take Pete and Dong Ling
with us and close the house right away. I fear Cyril would not
fancy it much; but, after all, he and Bertram would be off more or
less. They always are in the summer."
"But, William, you haven't yet got my idea at all," demurred Aunt
Hannah, with a discouraged shake of her head. "It's away!--away
from all this--from you--that I want to get Billy."
"Away! Away from me," cried the man, with an odd intonation of
terror, as he started forward in his chair. "Why, Aunt Hannah,
what are you talking about?"
"About Billy. This is no place in which to bring up a young girl--
a young girl who has not one shred of relationship to excuse it."
"But she is my namesake, and quite alone in the world, Aunt Hannah;
quite alone--poor child!"
"My dear William, that is exactly it--she is a child, and yet she
is not. That's where the trouble lies."
"What do you mean?"
"William, Billy has been brought up in a little country town with
a spinster aunt and a whole good-natured, tolerant village for
company. Well, she has accepted you and your entire household,
even down to Dong Ling, on the same basis."
"Well, I'm sure I'm glad," asserted the man with genial warmth.
"It's good for us to have her here. It's good for the boys. She's
already livened Cyril up and toned Bertram down. I may as well
confess, Aunt Hannah, that I've been more than a little disturbed
about Bertram of late. I don't like that Bob Seaver that he is so
fond of; and some other fellows, too, that have been coming here
altogether too much during the last year. Bertram says they're
only a little 'Bohemian' in their tastes. And to me that's the
worst of it, for Bertram himself is quite too much inclined that
"Exactly, William. And that only goes to prove what I said before.
Bertram is not a spinster aunt, and neither are any of the rest of
you. But Billy takes you that way."
"Takes us that way--as spinster aunts!"
"Yes. She makes herself as free in this house as she was in her
Aunt Ella's at Hampden Falls. She flies up to Cyril's rooms half a
dozen times a day with some question about her lessons; and I don't
know how long she'd sit at his feet and adoringly listen to his
playing if he didn't sometimes get out of patience and tell her to
go and practise herself. She makes nothing of tripping into
Bertram's studio at all hours of the day; and he's sketched her
head at every conceivable angle--which certainly doesn't tend to
make Billy modest or retiring. As to you--you know how much she's
in your rooms, spending evening after evening fussing over your
"I know; but we're--we're sorting them and making a catalogue,"
defended the man, anxiously. "Besides, I--I like to have her
there. She doesn't bother me a bit."
"No; I know she doesn't," replied Aunt Hannah, with a curious
inflection. "But don't you see, William, that all this isn't going
to quite do? Billy's too young--and too old."
"Come, come, Aunt Hannah, is that exactly logical?"
"It's true, at least."
"But, after all, where's the harm? Don't you think that you are
just a little bit too--fastidious? Billy's nothing but a care-free
"It's the 'free' part that I object to, William. She has taken
every one of you into intimate companionship--even Pete and Dong
"Pete and Dong Ling!"
"Yes." Mrs. Stetson's chin came up, and her nostrils dilated a
little. "Billy went to Pete the other day to have him button her
shirt-waist up in the back; and yesterday I found her down-stairs
in the kitchen instructing Dong Ling how to make chocolate fudge!"
William fell back in his chair.
"Well, well," he muttered, "well, well! She is a child, and no
mistake!" He paused, his brows drawn into a troubled frown. "But,
Aunt Hannah, what CAN I do? Of course you could talk to her, but--
I don't seem to quite like that idea."
"My grief and conscience--no, no! That isn't what is needed at
all. It would only serve to make her self-conscious; and that's
her one salvation now--that she isn't self-conscious. You see,
it's only the fault of her environment and training, after all. It
isn't her heart that's wrong."
"Indeed it isn't!"
"It will be different when she is older--when she has seen a little
more of the world outside Hampden Falls. She'll go to school, of
course, and I think she ought to travel a little. Meanwhile, she
mustn't live--just like this, though; certainly not for a time, at
"No, no, I'm afraid not," agreed William, perplexedly, rising to
his feet. "But we must think--what can be done." His step was
even slower than usual as he left the room, and his eyes were
WHAT BERTRAM CALLS "THE LIMIT"
At half past ten o'clock on the evening following Mrs. Stetson's
very plain talk with William, the telephone bell at the Beacon
Street house rang sharply. Pete answered it.
"Well?"--Pete never said "hello."
"Hello. Is that you, Pete?" called Billy's voice agitatedly. "Is
Uncle William there?"
"No, Miss Billy."
"Oh dear! Well, Mr. Cyril, then?"
"He's out, too, Miss Billy. And Mr. Bertram--they're all out."
"Yes, yes, I know HE'S out," almost sobbed Billy. "Dear, dear,
what shall I do! Pete, you'll have to come. There isn't any other
"Yes, Miss; where?" Pete's voice was dubious, but respectful.
"To the Boylston Street subway--on the Common, you know--North-
bound side. I'll wait for you--but HURRY! You see, I'm all alone
"Alone! Miss Billy--in the subway at this time of night! But,
Miss Billy, you shouldn't--you can't--you mustn't--"stuttered the
old man in helpless horror.
"Yes, yes, Pete, but never mind; I am here! And I should think if
'twas such a dreadful thing you would hurry FAST to get here, so I
wouldn't be alone," appealed Billy.
With an inarticulate cry Pete jerked the receiver on to the hook,
and stumbled away from the telephone. Five minutes later he had
left the house and was hurrying through the Common to the Boylston
Street subway station.
Billy, a long cloak thrown over her white dress, was waiting for
him. Her white slippers tapped the platform nervously, and her
hair, under the light scarf of lace, fluffed into little broken
curls as if it had been blown by the wind.
"Miss Billy, Miss Billy, what can this mean?" gasped the man.
"Where is Mrs. Stetson?"
"At Mrs. Hartwell's--you know she is giving a reception to-night.
But come, we must hurry! I'm after Mr. Bertram."
"After Mr. Bertram!"
"But I'm not alone now; I have you. Don't you see?"
At the blank stupefaction in the man's face, the girl sighed
"Dear me! I suppose I'll have to explain; but we're losing time--
and we mustn't--we mustn't!" she cried feverishly. "Listen then,
quick. It was at Mrs. Hartwell's tonight. I'd been watching Mr.
Bertram. He was with that horrid Mr. Seaver, and I never liked
him, never! I overheard something they said, about some place they
were going to, and I didn't like what Mr. Seaver said. I tried to
speak to Mr. Bertram, but I didn't get a chance; and the next thing
I knew he'd gone with that Seaver man! I saw them just in time to
snatch my cloak and follow them."
"FOLLOW them! MISS BILLY!"
"I had to, Pete; don't you see? There was no one else. Mr. Cyril
and Uncle William had gone--home, I supposed. I sent back word by
the maid to Aunt Hannah that I'd gone ahead; you know the carriage
was ordered for eleven; but I'm afraid she won't have sense to tell
Aunt Hannah, she looked so dazed and frightened when I told her.
But I COULDN'T wait to say more. Well, I hurried out and caught up
with Mr. Bertram just as they were crossing Arlington Street to the
Garden. I'd heard them say they were going to walk, so I knew I
could do it. But, Pete, after I got there, I didn't dare to speak--
I didn't DARE to! So I just--followed. They went straight
through the Garden and across the Common to Tremont Street, and on
and on until they stopped and went down some stairs, all marble and
lights and mirrors. 'Twas a restaurant, I think. I saw just where
it was, then I flew back here to telephone for Uncle William. I
knew HE could do something. But--well, you know the rest. I had
to take you. Now come, quick; I'll show you."
"But, Miss Billy, I can't! You mustn't; it's impossible,"
chattered old Pete. "Come, let me take ye home, Miss Billy, do!"
"Home--and leave Mr. Bertram with that Seaver man? No, no!"
"What CAN ye do?"
"Do? I can get him to come home with me, of course."
The old man made a despairing gesture and looked about him as if
for help. He saw then the curious, questioning eyes on all sides;
and with a quick change of manner, he touched Miss Billy's arm.
"Yes; we'll go. Come," he apparently agreed. But once outside on
the broad expanse before the Subway entrance he stopped again.
"Miss Billy, please come home," he implored. "Ye don't know--ye
can't know what yer a-doin'!"
The girl tossed her head. She was angry now.
"Pete, if you will not go with me I shall go alone. I am not
"But the hour--the place--you, a young girl! Miss Billy!"
remonstrated the old man agitatedly.
"It isn't so very late. I've been out lots of times later than
this at home. And as for the place, it's all light and bright, and
lots of people were going in--ladies and gentlemen. Nothing could
hurt me, Pete, and I shall go; but I'd rather you were with me.
Why, Pete, we mustn't leave him. He isn't--he isn't HIMSELF, Pete.
He--he's been DRINKING!" Billy's voice broke, and her face flushed
scarlet. She was almost crying. "Come, you won't refuse now!" she
finished, resolutely turning toward the street.
And because old Pete could not pick her up bodily and carry her
home, he followed close at her heels. At the head of the marble
stairs "all lights and mirrors," however, he made one last plea.
"Miss Billy, once more I beg of ye, won't ye come home? Ye don't
know what yer a-doin', Miss Billy, ye don't--ye don't!"
"I can't go home," persisted Billy. "I must get Mr. Bertram away
from that man. Now come; we'll just stand at the door and look in
until we see him. Then I'll go straight to him and speak to him."
And with that she turned and ran down the steps.
Billy blinked a little at the lights which, reflected in the great
plate-glass mirrors, were a million dazzling points that found
themselves again repeated in the sparkling crystal and glittering
silver on the flower-decked tables. All about her Billy saw
flushed-faced men, and bright-eyed women, laughing, chatting, and
clinking together their slender-stemmed wine glasses. But nowhere,
as she looked about her, could Billy descry the man she sought.
The head waiter came forward with uplifted hand, but Billy did not
see him. A girl at her left laughed disagreeably, and several men
stared with boldly admiring eyes; but to them, too, Billy paid no
heed. Then, halfway across the room she spied Bertram and Seaver
sitting together at a small table alone.
Simultaneously her own and Bertram's eyes met.
With a sharp word under his breath Bertram sprang to his feet. His
befogged brain had cleared suddenly under the shock of Billy's
"Billy, for Heaven's sake what are you doing here?" he demanded in
a low voice, as he reached her side.
"I came for you. I want you to go home with me, please, Mr.
Bertram," whispered Billy, pleadingly.
The man had not waited for an answer to his question. With a deft
touch he had turned Billy toward the door; and even as she finished
her sentence she found herself in the marble hallway confronting
Pete, pallid-faced, and shaking.
"And you, too, Pete! Great Scott! what does this mean?" he
Pete could only shake his head and glance imploringly at Billy.
His dry lips and tongue refused to articulate even one word.
"We came--for--you," choked Billy. "You see, I don't like that
"Well, by Jove! this is the limit!" breathed Bertram.
KATE TAKES A HAND
Undeniably Billy was in disgrace, and none knew it better than
Billy herself. The whole family had contributed to this knowledge.
Aunt Hannah was inexpressibly shocked; she had not breath even to
ejaculate "My grief and conscience!" Kate was disgusted; Cyril was
coldly reserved; Bertram was frankly angry; even William was vexed,
and showed it. Spunk, too, as if in league with the rest, took
this opportunity to display one of his occasional fits of
independence; and when Billy, longing for some sort of comfort,
called him to her, he settled back on his tiny haunches and
imperturbably winked and blinked his indifference.
Nearly all the family had had something to say to Billy on the
matter, with not entirely satisfactory results, when Kate
determined to see what she could do. She chose a time when she
could have the girl quite to herself with small likelihood of
"But, Billy, how could you do such an absurd thing?" she demanded.
"The idea of leaving my house alone, at half-past ten at night, to
follow a couple of men through the streets of Boston, and then with
my brothers' butler make a scene like that in a--a public dining-
Billy sighed in a discouraged way.
"Aunt Kate, can't I make you and the rest of them understand that I
didn't start out to do all that? I meant just to speak to Mr.
Bertram, and get him away from that man."
"But, my dear child, even that was bad enough!"
Billy lifted her chin.
"You don't seem to think, Aunt Kate; Mr. Bertram was--was not
"All the more reason then why you should NOT have done what you
"Why, Aunt Kate, you wouldn't leave him alone in that condition
with that man!"
It was Mrs. Hartwell's turn to sigh.
"But, Billy," she contested, wearily, "can't you understand that it
wasn't YOUR place to interfere--you, a young girl?"
"I'm sure I don't see what difference that makes. I was the only
one that could do it! Besides, afterward, I did try to get some
one else, Uncle William and Mr. Cyril. But when I found I couldn't
get them, I just had to do it alone--that is, with Pete."
"Pete!" scoffed Mrs. Hartwell. "Pete, indeed!"
Billy's head came up with a jerk. Billy was very angry now.
"Aunt Kate, it seems I've done a very terrible thing, but I'm sure
I don't see it that way. I wasn't afraid, and I wasn't in the
least bit of danger anywhere. I knew my way perfectly, and I did
NOT make any 'scene' in that restaurant. I just asked Mr. Bertram
to come home with me. One would think you WANTED Mr. Bertram to go
off with that man and--and drink too much. But Uncle William
hasn't liked him before, not one bit! I've heard him talk about
him--that Mr. Seaver."
Mrs. Hartwell raised both her hands, palms outward.
"Billy, it is useless to talk with you. You are quite impossible.
It is even worse than I expected!" she cried, with wrathful
"Worse than you--expected? What do you mean, please?"
"Worse than I thought it would be--before you came. The idea of
those five men taking a girl to bring up!"
Billy sat very still. She was even holding her breath, though Mrs.
Hartwell did not know that.
"You mean--that they did not--want me?" she asked quietly, so
quietly that Mrs. Hartwell did not realize the sudden tension
behind the words. For that matter, Mrs. Hartwell was too angry now
to realize anything outside of herself.
"Want you! Billy, it is high time that you understand just how
things are, and have been, at the house; then perhaps you will
conduct yourself with an eye a little more to other people's
comfort. Can you imagine three young men like my brothers WANTING
to take a strange young woman into their home to upset everything?"
"To--upset--everything!" echoed Billy, faintly. "And have I done--
"Of course you have! How could you help it? To begin with, they
thought you were a boy, and that was bad enough; but William was so
anxious to do right by his dead friend that he insisted upon taking
you, much against the will of all the rest of us. Oh, I know this
isn't pleasant for you to hear," admitted Mrs. Hartwell, in
response to the dismayed expression in Billy's eyes; "but I think
it's high time you realize something of what those men have
sacrificed for you. Now, to resume. When they found you were a
girl, what did they do? Did they turn you over to some school or
such place, as they should have done? Certainly not! William
would not hear of it. He turned Bertram out of his rooms, put you
into them, and established Aunt Hannah as chaperon and me as
substitute until she arrived. But because, through it all, he
smiled blandly, you have been blind to the whole thing.
"And what is the result? His entire household routine is shattered
to atoms. You have accepted the whole house as if it were your
own. You take Cyril's time to teach you music, and Bertram's to
teach you painting, without a thought of what it means to them.
There! I suppose I ought not to have said all this, but I couldn't
help it, Billy. And surely now, NOW you appreciate a little more
what your coming to this house has meant, and what my brothers have
done for you."
"I do, certainly," said Billy, still in that voice that was so
oddly smooth and emotionless.
"And you'll try to be more tractable, less headstrong, less
assertive of your presence?"
The girl sprang to her feet now.
"More tractable! Less assertive of my presence!" she cried. "Mrs.
Hartwell, do you mean to say you think I'd STAY after what you've
"Stay? Why, of course you'll stay! Don't be silly, child. I
didn't tell you this to make you go. I only wanted you to
understand how things were--and are."
"And I do understand--and I'm going."
Mrs. Hartwell frowned. Her face changed color.
"Come, come, Billy, this is nonsense. William wants you here. He
would never forgive me if anything I said should send you away.
You must not be angry with, him."
Billy turned now like an enraged little tigress.
"Angry with him! Why, I love him--I love them all! They are the
dearest men ever, and they've been so good to me!" The girl's
voice broke a little, then went on with a more determined ring.
"Do you think I'd have them know why I'm going?--that I'd hurt them
like that? Never!"
"But, Billy, what are you going to do?"
"I don't know. I've got to plan it out. I only know now that I'm
going, sure!" And with a choking little cry Billy ran from the
In her own chamber a minute later the tears fell unrestrained.
"It's home--all the home there is--anywhere!" she sobbed. "But
it's got to go--it's got to go!"
A PINK-RIBBON TRAIL
Mrs. Stetson wore an air of unmistakable relief as she stepped into
William's sitting-room. Even her knock at the half-open door had
sounded almost triumphant.
"William, it does seem as if Fate itself had intervened to help us
out," she began delightedly. "Billy, of her own accord, came to me
this morning, and said that she wanted to go away with me for a
little trip. So you see that will make it easier for us."
"Good! That is fortunate, indeed," cried William; but his voice
did not carry quite the joy that his words expressed. "I have been
disturbed ever since your remarks the other day," he continued
wearily; "and of course her extraordinary escapade the next evening
did not help matters any. It is better, I know, that she shouldn't
be here--for a time. Though I shall miss her terribly. But, tell
me, what is it--what does she want to do?"
"She says she guesses she is homesick for Hampden Falls; that she'd
like to go back there for a few weeks this summer if I'll go with
her. The--the dear child seems suddenly to have taken a great
fancy to me," explained Aunt Hannah, unsteadily. "I never saw her
"She is a dear girl--a very dear girl; and she has a warm heart."
William cleared his throat sonorously, but even that did not clear
his voice. "It was her heart that led her wrong the other night,"
he declared. "Hers was a brave and fearless act--but a very unwise
one. Much as I deplore Bertram's intimacy with Seaver, I should
hesitate to take the course marked out by Billy. Bertram is not a
child. But tell me more of this trip of yours. How did Billy
happen to suggest it?"
"I don't know. I noticed yesterday that she seemed strangely
silent--unhappy, in fact. She sat alone in her room the greater
part of the day, and I could not get her out of it. But this
morning she came to my door as bright as the sun itself and made me
the proposition I told you of. She says her aunt's house is
closed, awaiting its sale; but that she would like to open it for
awhile this summer, if I'd like to go. Naturally, you can
understand that I'd very quickly fall in with a plan like that--
one which promised so easily to settle our difficulties."
"Yes, of course, of course," muttered William. "It is very fine,
very fine indeed," he concluded. And again his voice failed quite
to match his words in enthusiasm.
"Then I'll go and begin to see to my things," murmured Mrs.
Stetson, rising to her feet. "Billy seems anxious to get away."
Billy did, indeed, seem anxious to get away. She announced her
intended departure at once to the family. She called it a visit to
her old home, and she seemed very glad in her preparations. If
there was anything forced in this gayety, no one noticed it, or at
least, no one spoke of it. The family saw very little of Billy,
indeed, these days. She said that she was busy; that she had
packing to do. She stopped taking lessons of Cyril, and visited
Bertram's studio only once during the whole three days before she
went away, and then merely to get some things that belonged to her.
On the fourth day, almost before the family realized what was
happening, she was gone; and with her had gone Mrs. Stetson and
The family said they liked it--the quiet, the freedom. They said
they liked to be alone--all but William. He said nothing.
When Bertram went to his studio that morning he did not pick up his
brushes until he had sat for long minutes before the sketch of a
red-cheeked, curly-headed young girl whose eyes held a peculiarly
wistful appeal; and Cyril, at his piano up-stairs, sat with idle
fingers until they finally drifted into a simple little melody--the
last thing Billy had been learning.
It was Pete who brought in the kitten; and Billy had been gone a
whole week then.
"The poor little beast was cryin' at the alleyway door, sir," he
explained. "I--I made so bold as to bring him in."
"Of course," said William. "Did you feed it?"
"Yes, sir; Ling did."
There was a pause, then Pete spoke, diffidently.
"I thought, sir, if ye didn't mind, I'd keep it. I'll try to see
that it stays down-stairs, sir, out of yer way."
"That's all right, Pete; keep it, by all means, by all means,"
"Thank ye, sir. Ye see, it's a stray. It hasn't got any home.
And, did ye notice, sir? it looks like Spunk."
"Yes, I noticed," said William, stirring with sudden restlessness.
"Yes, sir," said Pete. And he turned and carried the small gray
The new kitten did not stay down-stairs. Pete tried, it is true,
to keep his promise to watch it; but after he had seen the little
animal carried surreptitiously up-stairs in Mr. William's arms, he
relaxed his vigilance. Some days later the kitten appeared with a
huge pink bow behind its ears, somewhat awkwardly tied, if it must
be confessed. Where it came from, or who put it there was not
known--until one day the kitten was found in the hall delightedly
chewing at the end of what had been a roll of pink ribbon. Up the
stairs led a trail of pink ribbon and curling white paper--and the
end of the trail was in William's room.
BILLY WRITES ANOTHER LETTER
By the middle of June only William and the gray kitten were left
with Pete and Dong Ling in the Beacon Street house. Cyril had
sailed for England, and Bertram had gone on a sketching trip with a
To William the house this summer was unusually lonely; indeed, he
found the silent, deserted rooms almost unbearable. Even the
presence of the little gray cat served only to accentuate the
loneliness--it reminded him of Billy.
William missed Billy. He owned that now even to Pete. He said
that he would be glad when she came back. To himself he said that
he wished he had not fallen in quite so readily with Aunt Hannah's
notion of getting the child away. It was all nonsense, he
declared. All she needed was a little curbing and directing, both
of which could just as well have been done there at home. But she
had gone, and it could not be helped now. The only thing left for
him to do was to see that it did not occur again. When Billy came
back she should stay, except for necessary absences for school, of
course. All this William settled in his own mind quite to his own
satisfaction, entirely forgetting, strange to say, that it had been
Billy's own suggestion that she go away.
Very promptly William wrote to Billy. He told her how he missed
her, and said that he had stopped trying to sort and catalogue his
collections until she should be there to help him. He told her,
too, after a time, of the gray kitten, "Spunkie," that looked so
much like Spunk.
In reply he received plump white envelopes directed in the round,
schoolboy hand that he remembered so well. In the envelopes were
letters, cheery and entertaining, like Billy herself. They thanked
him for all his many kindnesses, and they told him something of
what Billy was doing. They showed unbounded interest in the new
kitten, and in all else that William wrote about; but they hinted
very plainly that he had better not wait for her to help him out on
the catalogue, for it would soon be autumn, and she would be in
William frowned at this, and shook his head; yet he knew that it
In August William closed the Beacon street house and went to the
Rangeley Lakes on a camping trip. He told himself that he would
not go had it not been for a promise given to an old college friend
months before. True, he had been anticipating this trip all
winter; but it occurred to him now that it would be much more
interesting to go to Hampden Falls and see Billy. He had been to
the Rangeley Lakes, and he had not been to Hampden Falls; besides,
there would be Ned Harding and those queer old maids with their
shaded house and socketed chairs to see. In short, to William, at
the moment, there seemed no place quite so absorbingly interesting
as was Hampden Falls. But he went to the Rangeley Lakes.
In September Cyril came back from Europe, and Bertram from the
Adirondacks where he had been spending the month of August.
William already had arrived, and with Pete and Dong Ling had opened
"Where's Billy? Isn't Billy here?" demanded Bertram.
"No. She isn't back yet," replied William.
"You don't mean to say she's stayed up there all summer!" exclaimed
"Why, yes, I--I suppose so," hesitated William. "You see, I
haven't heard but once for a month. I've been down in Maine, you
William wrote to Billy that night.
"My dear:--" he said in part. "I hope you'll come home right away.
We want to see SOMETHING of you before you go away again, and you
know the schools will be opening soon.
"By the way, it has just occurred to me as I write that perhaps,
after all, you won't have to go quite away. There are plenty of
good schools for young ladies right in and near Boston, which I am
sure you could attend, and still live at home. Suppose you come
back then as soon as you can, and we'll talk it up. And that
reminds me, I wonder how Spunk will get along with Spunkie.
Spunkie has been boarding out all August at a cat home, but he
seems glad to get back to us. I am anxious to see the two little
chaps together, just to find out how much alike they really do
Very promptly came Billy's answer; but William's face, after he had
read the letter, was almost as blank as it had been on that April
day when Billy's first letter came--though this time for a far
"Why, boys, she--isn't--coming," he announced in dismay.
"Isn't coming!" ejaculated two astonished Voices.
"Why, of course, later," retorted William, with unwonted sharpness.
"But not now. This is what she says." And he read aloud:
"DEAR UNCLE WILLIAM:--You poor dear man! Did you think I'd really
let you spend your time and your thought over hunting up a school
for me, after all the rest you have done for me? Not a bit of it!
Why, Aunt Hannah and I have been buried under school catalogues all
summer, and I have studied them all until I know just which has
turkey dinners on Sundays, and which ice cream at least twice a
week. And it's all settled, too, long ago. I'm going to a girls'
school up the Hudson a little way--a lovely place, I'm sure, from
the pictures of it.
"Oh, and another thing; I shall go right from here. Two girls at
Hampden Falls are going, and I shall go with them. Isn't that a
fine chance for me? You see it would never do, anyway, for me to
go alone--me, a 'Billy'--unless I sent a special courier ahead to
announce that 'Billy' was a girl.
"Aunt Hannah has decided to stay here this winter in the old house.
She likes it ever so much, and I don't think I shall sell the place
just yet, anyway. She will go back, of course, to Boston (after
I've gone) to get some things at the house that she'll want, and
also to do some shopping. But she'll let you know when she'll be
"I'll write more later, but just now I'm in a terrible rush. I
only write this note to set your poor heart at rest about having to
hunt up a school for me.
"With love to all,
As had happened once before after a letter from Billy had been
read, there was a long pause.
"Well, by Jove!" breathed Bertram.
"It's very sensible, I'm sure," declared Cyril. "Still, I must
confess, I would have liked to pick out her piano teacher for her."
William said nothing--perhaps because he was reading Billy's letter
At eight o'clock that night Bertram tapped on Cyril's door.
"What's the trouble?" demanded Cyril in answer to the look on the
Bertram lifted his eyebrows oddly.
"I'm not sure whether you'll call it 'trouble' or not," he replied;
"but I think it's safe to say that Billy is gone--for good."
"For good! What do you mean?--that she's not coming back--ever?"
"Nonsense! What's put that notion into your head?"
"Billy's letter first; after that, Pete."
"Yes. He came to me a few minutes ago, looking as if he had seen a
ghost. It seems he swept Billy's rooms this morning and put them
in order against her coming; and tonight William told him that she
wouldn't be here at present. Pete came straight to me. He said he
didn't dare tell Mr. William, but he'd got to tell some one: there
wasn't one single thing of Miss Billy's left in her rooms nor
anywhere else in the house--not so much as a handkerchief or a
"Hm-m; that does look--suspicious," murmured Cyril. "What's up, do
"Don't know; but something, sure. Still, of course we may be
wrong. We won't say anything to Will about it, anyhow. Poor old
chap, 'twould worry him, specially if he thought Billy's feelings
had been hurt."
"Hurt?--nonsense! Why, we did everything for her--everything!"
"Yes, I know--and she tried to do EVERYTHING for us, too," retorted
Bertram, quizzically, as he turned away.
SEEING BILLY OFF
Early in October Mrs. Stetson arrived at the Beacon Street house,
but she did not stay long.
"I've come for just a few things I want, and to do some shopping,"
"But Aunt Hannah," remonstrated William, "what is the meaning of
this? Why are you staying up there at Hampden Falls?"
"I like it there, William; and why shouldn't I stay? Surely
there's no need for me to be here now, with Billy away!"
"But Billy's coming back!"
"Of course she's coming back," laughed Aunt Hannah, "but not this
winter, certainly. Why, William, what's the matter? I'm sure, I
think it's a beautiful arrangement. Why, don't you remember? It's
just what we said we wanted--to keep Billy away for awhile. And
the best part of it is, it's her own idea from the start."
"Yes, I know, I know," frowned William: "but I'm not sure, after
all, that that idea of ours wasn't a mistake,--a mistake that she
needed to get away."
"Never! We were just right about it," declared Aunt Hannah, with
"And is Billy--happy?"
"She seems to be."
"Hm-m; well, THAT'S good," said William, as he turned to go up to
his room. But as he climbed the stairs he sighed; and to hear him,
one would have thought it anything but good to him--that Billy was
One by one the weeks passed. Mrs. Stetson had long since gone back
to Hampden Falls; and Bertram said that the Strata was beginning to
look natural again. There remained now, indeed, only Spunkie, the
small gray cat, to remind any one of the days that were gone--
though, to be sure, there were Billy's letters, if they might be
called a reminder.
Billy did not write often. She said that she was "too busy to
breathe." Such letters as did come from her were addressed to
William, though they soon came to be claimed by the entire family.
Bertram and Cyril frankly demanded that William read them aloud;
and even Pete always contrived to have some dusting or "puttering"
within earshot--a subterfuge quite well understood, but never
reproved by any of the brothers.
When the Christmas vacation drew near, William wrote that he hoped
Billy and Aunt Hannah would spend it with them; but Billy answered
that although she appreciated their kindness and thanked them for
it, yet she must decline their invitation, as she had already
invited several of the girls to go home with her to Hampden Falls
for a country Christmas.
For the Easter vacation William was even more insistent--but so was
Billy: she had already accepted an invitation to go home with one
of the girls, and she did not think it would be at all polite to
change her plans now.
William fretted not a little. Even Cyril and Bertram said that it
was "too bad"; that they themselves would like to see the girl--so
It was in the spring, at the close of school, however, that the
heaviest blow fell: Billy was not coming to Boston even then. She
wrote that she and Aunt Hannah were going to "run across the water
for a little trip through the British Isles"; and that their
passage was already engaged.
"And so you see," she explained, "I shall not have a minute to
spare. There'll be only time to skip home for Aunt Hannah, and to
pack the trunks before it'll be time to start."
Bertram looked at Cyril significantly when this letter was read
aloud; and afterward he muttered in Cyril's ear:
"You see! It's Hampden Falls she calls 'home' now--not the
"Yes, I see," frowned Cyril. "It does look suspicious."
Two days before the date of Billy's expected sailing, William
announced at the breakfast table that he was going away on
business; might be gone until the end of the week.
"You don't say," commented Bertram. "I'M going to-morrow, but I'm
coming back in a couple of days."
"Hm-m;" murmured William, abstractedly. "Oh, well, I may be back
before the end of the week."
Only one meal did Cyril eat alone after his brothers had gone; then
he told Pete that he had decided to take the night boat for New
York. There was a little matter that called him there, he said,
and he believed the trip by water would be a pleasure, the night
was so fine and warm.
In New York Cyril had little trouble in finding Billy, as he knew
the steamship she was to take.
"I thought as long as I was in New York to-day I'd just come and
say good-by to you and Aunt Hannah," he informed her, with an
evident aim toward making his presence appear to be casual.
"That was good of you!" exclaimed Billy. "And how are Uncle
William and Mr. Bertram?"
"Very well, I fancy, though they weren't there when I left,"
replied the man.
"Yes. A little matter of business they said; but--well, by Jove!"
he broke off, his gaze on a familiar figure hurrying at that moment
toward them. "There's William now!"
William, with no eyes but for Billy, came rapidly forward.
"Well, well, Billy! I thought as long as I happened to be in New
York to-day I'd just run down to the boat and see you and Aunt
Hannah off, and wish-- CYRIL! Where did YOU come from?"
"He just happened to be in town, too, Uncle William, like you," she
explained. "And I'm sure I think it's lovely of you to be so kind.
Aunt Hannah'll be up right away. She went down to the stateroom
to--" This time it was Billy who stopped abruptly. The two men
facing her could not see what she saw, and not until their brother
Bertram's merry greeting fell on their ears did they understand her
"And is this the way you meant to run away from us, young lady?"
cried Bertram. "Not so fast! You see, I happened to be in New
York this morning, and so I--" Something in Billy's face sent a
pause to his words just as his eyes spied the two men at the girl's
side. For a moment he stared dumbly; then he gave a merry gesture
"It's all up! I might as well confess. I'VE been planning this
thing for three weeks, Billy, ever since your letter came, in fact.
As for my two fellow-sinners here, I'll wager they weren't two days
behind me in their planning. So now, own up, boys!"
William and Cyril, however, did not have to "own up." Mrs. Stetson
appeared at the moment and created, for them, a very welcome
Long minutes later, when the good-byes had become nothing but a
flutter of white handkerchiefs from deck to shore, and shore to
deck, William drew a long sigh.
"That's a nice little girl, boys, a nice little girl!" he
exclaimed. "I declare! I didn't suppose I'd mind so much her going
so far away."
BILLY, THE MYTH
To all appearances it came about very naturally that Billy did not
return to America for some time. During the summer she wrote
occasionally to William, and gave glowing accounts of their
travels. Then in September came the letter telling him that they
had concluded to stay through the winter in Paris. Billy wrote
that she had decided not to go to college. She would take up some
studies there in Paris, she said, but she would devote herself more
particularly to her music.
When the next summer came there was still something other than
America to claim her attention: the Calderwells had invited her to
cruise with them for three months. Their yacht was a little
floating palace of delight, Billy declared, not to mention the
charm of the unknown lands and waters that she and Aunt Hannah
Of all this Billy wrote to William--at occasional intervals--but
she did not come home. Even when the next autumn came, there was
still Paris to detain her for another long winter of study.
In the Henshaw house on Beacon Street, William mourned not a little
as each recurring season brought no Billy.
"The idea! It's just as if one didn't have a namesake!" he fumed.
"Well, did you have one?" Bertram demanded one day. "Really, Will,
I'm beginning to think she's a myth. Long years ago, from the
first of April till June we did have two frolicsome sprites here
that announced themselves as 'Billy' and 'Spunk,' I'll own. And a
year later, by ways devious and secret, we three managed to see the
one called 'Billy' off on a great steamship. Since then, what? A
word--a message--a scrap of paper. Billy's a myth, I say!"
"Sometimes I don't know but you are right," he admitted. "Why,
it'll be three years next June since Billy was here. She must be
nearly twenty-one--and we know almost nothing about her."
"That's so. I wonder--" Bertram paused, and laughed a little, "I
wonder if NOW she'd play guardian angel to me through the streets
William threw a keen glance into his brother's face.
"I don't believe it would be quite necessary, NOW, Bert," he said
The other flushed a little, but his eyes softened.
"Maybe not, Will; still--one can always find some use for--a
guardian angel, you know," he finished, almost under his breath.
To Cyril Bertram had occasionally spoken, during the last two
years, of their first suspicions concerning Billy's absence. They
speculated vaguely, too, as to why she had gone, and if she would
ever come back; and they wondered if anything could have wounded
her and sent her away. To William they said nothing of all this,
however; though they agreed that they would have asked Kate for her
opinion, had she been there. But Kate was not there. As it
chanced, a good business opportunity had called Kate's husband to a
Western town very soon after Billy herself had gone to Hampden
Falls; and since the family's removal to the West, Mrs. Hartwell
had not once returned to Boston.
It was in April, three years since Billy's first appearance in the
Beacon Street house, that Bertram met his friend, Hugh Calderwell,
on the street one afternoon, and brought him home to dinner.
Hugh Calderwell was a youth who, Bertram said, had been born with a
whole dozen silver spoons in his mouth. And, indeed, it would seem
so, if present prosperity were any indication. He was a good-
looking young fellow with a frank manliness that appealed to men,
and a deferential chivalry that appealed to women; a combination
that brought him many friends--and some enemies. With plenty of
money to indulge a passion for traveling, young Calderwell had
spent the most of his time since graduation in daring trips into
the heart of almost impenetrable forests, or to the top of almost
inaccessible mountains, with an occasional more ordinary trip to
give variety. He had now come to the point, however, where he was
determined to "settle down to something that meant something," he
told the Henshaws, as the four men smoked in Bertram's den after
"Yes, sir, I have," he iterated. "And, by the way, the little girl
that has set me to thinking in such good earnest is a friend of
yours, too,--Miss Neilson. I met her in Paris. She was on our
yacht all last summer."
Three men sat suddenly erect in their chairs.
"Billy?" cried three voices. "Do you know Billy?"
"To be sure! And you do, too, she says."
"Oh, no, we don't," disputed Bertram, emphatically. "But we WISH
His guest laughed.
"Well, I fancy you DO know her, or you wouldn't have answered like
that," he retorted. "For you just begin to know Miss Billy when
you find out that you DON'T know her. She is a charming girl--a
very charming girl."
"She is my namesake," announced William, in what Bertram called his
"finest ever" voice that he used only for the choicest bits in his
"Yes, she told me," smiled Calderwell. "'Billy' for 'William.'
Odd idea, too, but clever. It helps to distinguish her even more--
though she doesn't need it, for that matter."
"'Doesn't need it,'" echoed William in a puzzled voice.
"No. Perhaps you don't know, Mr. Henshaw, but Miss Billy is a very
popular young woman. You have reason to be proud of your namesake."
"I have always been that," declared William, with just a touch of
"Tell us about her," begged Bertram. "You remember I said that we
wished we did know her."
"I don't believe, after all, that you do know much about her," he
began musingly. "Billy is not one who talks much of herself, I
fancy, in her letters."
William frowned. This time there was more than a touch of hauteur
in his voice.
"MISS NEILSON is not one to show vanity anywhere," he said, with
suggestive emphasis on the name.
"Indeed she isn't," agreed Calderwell, heartily. "She is a fine
girl--quite one of the finest I know, in fact."
There was an uncomfortable silence. Over in the corner Cyril
puffed at his cigar with an air almost of boredom. He had not
spoken since his first surprised questioning with the others, "Do
you know Billy?" William was still frowning. Even Bertram wore a
look that was not quite satisfied.
"Miss Neilson has spent two winters in Paris now, you know,"
resumed Calderwell, after a moment; "and she is very popular both
with the American colony, and with the other students. As for her
'Aunt Hannah'--they all make a pet of her; but that is, perhaps,
because Billy herself is so devoted."
Again William frowned at the familiar "Billy"; but Calderwell
talked on unheeding.
"After all, I'm not sure but some of us regard 'Aunt Hannah' with
scant favor, occasionally," he laughed; "something as if she were
the dragon that guarded the princess, you know. Miss Billy IS
popular with the men, and she has suitors enough to turn any girl's
head--but her own."
"Suitors!" cried William, plainly aghast. "Why, Billy's nothing
but a child!"
Calderwell gave an odd smile.
"How long is it since you've seen--Miss Neilson?" he asked.
"And then only for a few minutes just before she sailed," amended
Bertram. "We haven't really seen much of her since three years
"Hm-m; well, you'll see for yourself soon. You know she's coming
home next month."
Not one of the brothers did know it--but not one of them intended
that Calderwell should find out that they did not.
"Yes, she's coming home," said William, lifting his chin a little.
"Oh, yes, next month," added Bertram, nonchalantly.
Even Cyril across the room was not to be outdone.
"Yes. Miss Neilson comes home next month," he said.
BILLY, THE REALITY
Very early in May came the cheery letter from Billy herself
announcing the news of her intended return.
"And I shall be so glad to see you all," she wrote in closing. "It
seems so long since I left America." Then she signed her name with
"kindest regards to all"--Billy did not send "love to all" any
William at once began to make plans for his namesake's comfort.
"But, Will, she didn't say she was coming here," Bertram reminded
"She didn't need to," smiled William, confidently. "She just took
it for granted, of course. This is her home."
"But it hasn't been--for years. She's called Hampden Falls 'home.'"
"I know, but that was before," demurred William, his eyes a little
anxious. "Besides, they've sold the house now, you know. There's
nowhere for her to go but here, Bertram."
"All right," acquiesced the younger man, still doubtingly. "Maybe
that's so; maybe! But--" he did not finish his sentence, and his
eyes were troubled as he watched his brother begin to rearrange
Billy's rooms. In time, however, so sure was William of Billy's
return to the Beacon Street house, that Bertram ceased to question;
and, with almost as much confidence as William himself displayed,
he devoted his energies to the preparations for Billy's arrival.
And what preparations they were! Even Cyril helped this time to
the extent of placing on Billy's piano a copy of his latest book,
and a pile of new music. Nor were the melodies that floated down
from the upper floor akin to funeral marches; they were perilously
near to being allied to "ragtime."
At last everything was ready. There was not one more bit of dust
to catch Pete's eye, nor one more adornment that demanded William's
careful hand to adjust. In Billy's rooms new curtains graced the
windows and new rugs the floors. In Mrs. Stetson's, too, similar
changes had been made. The latest and best "Face of a Girl" smiled
at one from above Billy's piano, and the very rarest of William's
treasures adorned the mantelpiece. No guns nor knives nor fishing-
rods met the eyes now. Instead, at every turn, there was a hint of
feminine tastes: a mirror, a workbasket, a low sewing-chair, a
stand with a tea tray. And everywhere were roses, up-stairs and
down-stairs, until the air was heavy with their perfume. In the
dining-room Pete was again "swinging back and forth like a
pendulum," it is true; but it was a cheerful pendulum to-day,
anxious only that no time should be lost. In the kitchen alone was
there unhappiness, and there because Dong Ling had already spoiled
a whole cake of chocolate in a vain attempt to make Billy's
favorite fudge. Even Spunkie, grown now to be sleek, lazy, and
majestically indifferent, was in holiday attire, for a brand-new
pink bow of huge dimensions adorned his fat neck--for the first
time in many months.
"You see," William had explained to Bertram, "I put on that ribbon
again because I thought it would make Spunkie seem more homelike,
and more like Spunk. You know there wasn't anything Billy missed
so much as that kitten when she went abroad. Aunt Hannah said so."
"Yes, I know," Bertram had laughed; "but still, Spunkie isn't
Spunk, you understand!" he had finished, with a vision in his eyes
of Billy as she had looked that first night when she had
triumphantly lifted from the green basket the little gray kitten
with its enormous pink bow. This time there was no circuitous
journeying, no secrecy in the trip to New York. Quite as a matter
of course the three brother made their plans to meet Billy, and
quite as a matter of course they met her. Perhaps the only cloud
in the horizon of their happiness was the presence of Calderwell.
He, too, had come to meet Billy--and all the Henshaw brothers were
vaguely conscious of a growing feeling of dislike toward Calderwell.
Billy was unmistakably glad to see them--and to see Calderwell. It
was while she was talking to Calderwell, indeed, that William and
Cyril and Bertram had an opportunity really to see the girl, and to
note what time had done for her. They knew then, at once, that
time had been very kind.
It was a slim Billy that they saw, with a head royally poised, and
a chin that was round and soft, and yet knew well its own mind.
The eyes were still appealing, in a way, yet behind the appeal lay
unsounded depths of--not one of the brothers could quite make up
his mind just what, yet all the brothers determined to find out.
The hair still curled distractingly behind the pretty ears, and
fluffed into burnished bronze where the wind had loosened it. The
cheeks were paler now, though the rose-flush still glowed warmly
through the clear, smooth skin. The mouth--Billy's mouth had
always been fascinating, Bertram suddenly decided, as he watched it
now. He wanted to paint it--again. It was not too large for
beauty nor too small for strength. It curved delightfully, and the
lower lip had just the fullness and the color that he liked--to
paint, he said to himself.
William, too, was watching Billy's mouth; in fact--though he did
not know it--one never was long near Billy without noticing her
mouth, if she talked. William thought it pretty, merry, and
charmingly kissable; but just now he wished that it would talk to
him, and not to Calderwell any longer. Cyril--indeed, Cyril was
paying little attention to Billy. He had turned to Aunt Hannah.
To tell the truth, it seemed to Cyril that, after all, Billy was
very much like other merry, thoughtless, rather noisy young women,
of whom he knew--and disliked--scores. It had occurred to him
suddenly that perhaps it would not be unalloyed bliss to take this
young namesake of William's home with them.
It was not until an hour later, when Billy, Aunt Hannah, and the
Henshaws had reached the hotel where they were to spend the night,
that the Henshaw brothers began really to get acquainted with
Billy. She seemed then more like their own Billy--the Billy that
they had known.
"And I'm so glad to be here," she cried; "and to see you all.
America IS the best place, after all!"
"And of America, Boston is the Hub, you know," Bertram reminded
"It is," nodded Billy.
"And it hasn't changed a mite, except to grow better. You'll see
"As if I hadn't been counting the days!" she exulted. "And now
what have you been doing--all of you?"
"Just wait till you see," laughed Bertram. "They're all spread out
for your inspection."
"A new 'Face of a Girl'?"
"Of course--yards of them!"
"And heaps of 'Old Blues' and 'black basalts'?" she questioned,
turning to William.
"Well, a--few," hesitated William, modestly.
"And--the music; what of that?" Billy looked now at Cyril.
"You'll see," he shrugged. "There's very little, after all--of
Billy gave a wise shake of her head.
"I know better; and I want to see it all so much. We've talked and
talked of it; haven't we, Aunt Hannah?--of what we would do when we
got to Boston?"
"Yes, my dear; YOU have."
The girl laughed.
"I accept the amendment," she retorted with mock submission. "I
suppose it is always I who talk."
"It was--when I painted you," teased Bertram. "By the way, I'll
LET you talk if you'll pose again for me," he finished eagerly.
Billy uptilted her nose.
"Do you think, sir, you deserve it, after that speech?" she
"But how about YOUR art--your music?" entreated William. "You have
said so little of that in your letters."
Billy hesitated. For a brief moment she glanced at Cyril. He did
not appear to have heard his brother's question. He was talking
with Aunt Hannah.
"Oh, I play--some," murmured the girl, almost evasively. "But tell
me of yourself, Uncle William, and of what you are doing." And
William needed no second bidding.
It was some time later that Billy turned to him with an amazed
exclamation in response to something he had said.
"Home with you! Why, Uncle William, what do you mean? You didn't
really think you'd got to be troubled with ME any longer!" she
William's face paled, then flushed.
"I did not call it 'trouble,' Billy," he said quietly. His grieved
eyes looked straight into hers and drove the merriment quite away.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," she said gently. "And I appreciate your
kindness, indeed I do; but I couldn't--really I couldn't think of
such a thing!"
"And you don't have to think of it," cut in Bertram, who considered
that the situation was becoming much too serious. "All you have to
do is to come."
Billy shook her head.
"You are so good, all of you! But you didn't--you really didn't
think I WAS--coming!" she protested.
"Indeed we did," asserted Bertram, promptly; "and we have done
everything to get ready for you, too, even to rigging up Spunkie to
masquerade as Spunk. I'll warrant that Pete's nose is already
flattened against the window-pane, lest we should HAPPEN to come
to-night; and there's no telling how many cakes of chocolate Dong
Ling has spoiled by this time. We left him trying to make fudge,
Billy laughed--but she cried, too; at least, her eyes grew suddenly
moist. Bertram tried to decide afterward whether she laughed till
she cried, or cried till she laughed.
"No, no," she demurred tremulously. "I couldn't. I really have
never intended that."
"But why not? What are you going to do?" questioned William in a
voice that was dazed and hurt.
The first question Billy ignored. The second she answered with a
promptness and a gayety that was meant to turn the thoughts away
from the first.
"We are going to Boston, Aunt Hannah and I. We've got rooms
engaged for just now, but later we're going to take a house and
live together. That's what we're going to do."
In the Beacon Street house William mournfully removed the huge pink
bow from Spunkie's neck, and Bertram threw away the roses. Cyril
marched up-stairs with his pile of new music and his book; and
Pete, in obedience to orders, hid the workbasket, the tea table,
and the low sewing-chair. With a great display of a "getting back
home" air, Bertram moved many of his belongings upstairs--but
inside of a week he had moved them down again, saying that, after
all, he believed he liked the first floor better. Billy's rooms
were closed then, and remained as they had for years--silent and
Billy with Aunt Hannah had gone directly to their Back Bay hotel.
"This is for just while I'm house-hunting," the girl had said. But
very soon she had decided to go to Hampden Falls for the summer and
postpone her house-buying until the autumn. Billy was twenty-one
now, and there were many matters of business to arrange with Lawyer
Harding, concerning her inheritance. It was not until September,
therefore, when Billy once more returned to Boston, that the
Henshaw brothers had the opportunity of renewing their acquaintance
with William's namesake.
"I want a home," Billy said to Bertram and William on the night of
her arrival. (As before, Mrs. Stetson and Billy had gone directly
to a hotel.) "I want a real home with a furnace to shake--if I
want to--and some dirt to dig in."
"Well, I'm sure that ought to be easy to find," smiled Bertram.
"Oh, but that isn't all," supplemented Billy. "It must be mostly
closets and piazza. At least, those are the important things."
"Well, you might run across a snag there. Why don't you build?"
Billy gave a gesture of dissent.
"Too slow. I want it now."
Bertram laughed. His eyes narrowed quizzically.
"From what Calderwell says," he bantered, "I should judge that
there are plenty of sighing swains who are only too ready to give
you a home--and now."
The pink deepened in Billy's cheeks.
"I said closets and a piazza, dirt to dig, and a furnace to shake,"
she retorted merrily. "I didn't say I wanted a husband."
"And you don't, of course," interposed William, decidedly. "You
are much too young for that."
"Yes, sir," agreed Billy demurely; but Bertram was sure he saw a
twinkle under the downcast lashes.
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